How do we understand God’s word?
Luther was no stranger to conflict. He found himself at odds with the Roman Church and other reformers. How did he navigate this struggle? Luther said “here I stand”—upon the word. But when God’s word itself is the battlefield, how did he distinguish friend from foe? Did he trust in his own subjective interpretation? Was Luther merely a more accurate interpreter? Or perhaps just a louder and more bullish one?
In Martin Luther and the Rule of Faith, Todd R. Hains argues that far from an idiosyncratic and individualistic interpreter, Luther’s reading of scripture was ever guided by “the faith.” Romans 12:6 is often understood as saying something to the effect that prophets are guided by their own (subjective) faith, but Luther understood it as saying that God’s teachers must be aligned with “the faith”—that which was handed down from the apostles.
For Luther, the faith is expressed concretely and simply in the catechism: the Ten Commandments, The Apostles’ Creed, and the Our Father—and by extension the sacraments of Baptism, Communion, and Absolution. The catechism is not something we consume and discard. It is not merely baby food. As the catechism is ever true and relevant, it should always guide how we read and preach God’s word.
Hains examines hundreds of Luther’s sermons to see Luther’s conviction in action. Hains examines Luther’s words on sample texts from five parts of the canon:
- Law: Genesis 22
- History: Judges 14:14
- Wisdom: Psalm 22
- Prophets: Isaiah 9:2–7
- New Testament: Luke 24:13–49
Drawing from numerous sermons, Hains reveals how the catechism guided Luther to find Christ and his promises in every text. This is the heart of the book, and Hains more than establishes his thesis through deft summaries and numerous ever-entertaining and illuminating quotes from Luther. The book then ends with a call for Christians to cling to the catechism.
People often complain that academic books have little to offer the layperson. This book begins with a prayer, calling the reader to enter with a spirit of devotion and dependence. I work with Hains regularly (there’s the disclaimer!) and catechizing the church drives him and his work. And as someone who confesses the Creed and prays the Our Father daily with my children, I see us being a family grounded in what is most essential.
I read this book in the mornings, most of the time with my youngest daughter on my lap. I couldn’t miss the lesson. In a day and age where God’s word is being misused to empower the next power-hungry narcissist, proof-text soon-to-be irrelevant trends, or rally the troops for the unending culture wars, Luther (via Hains) and his insistence on the catechism keeps us—and our children—grounded and focused in the faith and the promise of Christ. This book is not only for scholars and Luther enthusiasts—it truly has an urgent and relevant word for believers, parents, and pastors. The catechism is for all God’s children.
Martin Luther and the Rule of Faith is relatively short (around 200 pages), compelling, and deceptively simple. It is easy to understand but leaves much to ponder—much like the catechism. Whether Luther was the cause of the private, untethered, and idiosyncratic interpretation of scripture that Protestants encounter regularly, he himself had an answer for it—God’s word, for God’s people.
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